Black, Muslim, Female and Proud

Intisar Seraaji photo by Magali Gauthier

By Intisar Seraaj

I’m Muslim, African American and female.

Some would say these are three categories that work against me, but I say that these things work in my favor.

I can’t tell you about my 24 years of experiences as an African American, Muslim woman in just one blog, but I’ll tell you about some of the highlights.

Being a part of these three categories has added vast flavor to my life, like cooking or eating collard greens, corn bread and curried lamb in the same meal. It’s exposed me to a wide range of thinking, from Martin Luther King, Jr. to El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz (Malcolm X). It’s even influenced the way I present myself to the world in the way I dress, from wearing abayas to wearing my “Unapologetically Black” T-shirt.

As I’m writing this, I’m listening to my Travis Greene Pandora radio station. Greene is a gospel singer. Yes, I’m Muslim but I’m also an African American who has a majority Christian extended family. So I listen to Gospel music.

Like many other Black families, my mom would play gospel music on Saturday mornings when it was time to clean the house. As Muslims, we love Jesus too — but as a Prophet. Then she’d pause the music around mid- afternoon so we could pray. Later that day we might have a barbecue — a pork free one, of course. Or we’d continue cleaning, and my mom might turn off the gospel station, load an Islamic CD and play the music of Muslim musicians like Native Deen or Wilmore Sadiki.

These blended cultural experiences have defined my life. Its been as fluid as the blood in my veins.

It’s easy for me to hop from a Muslim Student Union meeting to a Black Student Association assembly to a Sistah Circle gathering.

But, I will admit that even though it’s easy for me to hop from one group to the next, it may not be easy for the people in those circles to initially accept me.

Sometimes I don’t feel Muslim enough among other Muslims when I choose to wrap my hijab as a turban instead of the style seen more often in the media. I’ve had some experiences of some people and some Muslims not recognizing me or fully embracing me when I’m in a turban. This is not always the case. Sometimes And sometimes don’t feel Muslim enough when I hear some Muslim women judging photos of women on the Internet for not being in proper hijab, because sometimes I like to wear short sleeves or skinny jeans.

Sometimes I don’t feel completely comfortable around a group of women if I’m the only one wearing hijab and the only one covered up from head to ankle. Sometimes I’d like to wear my hair out or wear a fitted dress when I go to a party where I know all the other girls will have beautiful hairdos and outfits showing off their sleek legs.

Sometimes I don’t feel Black enough. I remember one of my African American classmates in middle school who one day slapped my head to see if he could feel what type of hair I had under my scarf. I had braids at the time like many other young Black girls, which he thought was “cool.” Then another day he joked about being scared to make fun of me because my “uncle Osama bin Laden would come and blow him up.” (No, bin Laden was not related to me.) So I guess to him I was either Black or Muslim on a daily basis, not both.

But to me, I’m Black, Muslim and female all at once. And I’m proud of it.

I always remember being proud of being this beautiful trifecta. I think kept me from being too negatively affected by what was going on in the news.

I remember hearing my parents, particularly my dad, talking about the news every day after school. My brother and I sit down for dinner or a snack after school and my dad would switch our cartoons to the news. He’d always comment on how the justice system was racist and how the government loved to try to quickly blame crimes on Muslims.

Although this was depressing and went against the color-blind and religious-blind world I wanted to live in, I knew that he was right. I still know that he’s right. Hearing the news and my parents’ commentary on current events made me more aware of my differences and made me want to be more cautious.

But it also made me proud to be unique. I was and am proud to be a part of these certain groups that had to endure so much and still have to struggle to achieve every milestone that was more easily and readily given to other groups.